Medinet Habu, Mortuary Temple of Ramesses III
Across the river from the temples of Luxor and Karnak, set against dramatic limestone cliffs and the desert beyond, are ancient tombs and mortuary temples, the Land of the Dead. It would take weeks to see everything there is to see and far longer to put all the characters into their places in history. There are not only kings, queens and their families, but also noble families and the villages and burial sites of the workers who created it all over the millennia. So I studied the possibilities with the help of a knowledgeable traveler on a well-known forum and arrived at a short list for the day I’d set aside for the West Bank.
The list included no tombs for 2 reasons. I dislike small underground spaces and though I realize that a visit to the area tombs is a top priority for many people, it feels disrespectful to me, even after so long. The fact that the original occupants are no longer there seems irrelevant.
Queen Hatshepsut’s Mortuary Temple was at the top of my list, had been for decades, since seeing vintage photographs of the Deir el-Bahari site’s late 19th century excavation. My excitement only grew after the surprise of seeing its distinctive outline from a rooftop restaurant in town. I was also surprised during my pre-trip reading to discover that Howard Carter’s house, where he’d lived while excavating Tutankhamen’s tomb, was open to the public and very near the temple. That left one more site to choose to round out the day and descriptions of the temple called Medinat Habu, or just Habu, though I hadn’t previously heard of it, sounded like it might be the one. I consulted my hosts, Freda and Edward, about a guide and driver for the day and they recommended their neighbor, Radwan, who was available. Ramadan was the name of our driver.
Habu Temple from the air, set amidst homes & farms.
The way to the West Bank from town is by one of 2 means, the ferry for those on foot and by a bridge located several miles to the south of town for those going by car or bus. So, though less than 2 miles as the crow flies, Medinet Habu is a 15 mile drive. We passed the Colossi of Memnon beside the road, more than a bit worse for wear, poor things.
Because the temple sits in low land watered by the Nile, rather than higher in the desert, the site is adjacent to farms and homes with surprisingly few tourists. Identified in 1799, excavations of Ramesses III’s mortuary temple at Medinet Habu were undertaken between 1859 and 1899 during which Coptic era buildings, including a church, were cleared from inside the temple with no record being made of them. Almost continuous conservation has been going on since 1924, in part by the Oriental Institute of Chicago. Ramesses III was a 20th dynasty pharaoh who ruled circa 1186 to 1155 B.C.
Above, huge carvings on south tower first pylon and
below, depicting Ramsses III’s military victories.
The First Courtyard
Hieroglyphs carved up to 6” deep.
Above, Ramsses III in the company of gods.
Below, counting hands of dead enemies.
Painted columns & ceiling, second court.
Below, architrave with painted winged solar disk.
I didn’t know it at the time but at the end of my stay in Egypt I’d find myself staying for 3 days a stone’s throw from Habu, with a view of this beautiful place from the rooftop where I ate all my meals during those peaceful and purposely motion-free days of rest & recuperation.
Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut
In 1972 I acquired an old book describing the Mortuary Temple of Hatshepsut at Deir el-Bahari. The temple was excavated beginning in the 1890s and I’m assuming the book was published not long afterward. It was illustrated with a number of photographs and I was hugely impressed with the design of the building, not unlike a stage set which, in a sense, was the purpose of such a place, presenting the mythologized story of Egypt’s famous 18th dynasty female pharaoh.
A row of statues depicting the dead pharaoh, Hatshepsut,
in the form of the god, Osiris, with remnants of the original paint.
Hathor column in the Hathor shrine.
Below, well-preserved wall paintings & painted reliefs
behind the middle colonnade.
Above, Hatshepsut in male pharaoh form, making offerings to the god, Horus.
The middle colonnade with Osiris statues above.
The place did not disappoint, the architecture as striking in person as it had been in the old pictures. Unique in Egypt, one of the most visited sites of the Theban necropolis, I was able to photograph it on arrival about midday almost devoid of other tourists and, though busses arrived while I was there, there were still lulls for more picture-taking if I was patient. And I am. It may have been the time and place I was most grateful for the decision to visit Egypt now.
All episodes of 'PortMoresby in Egypt' can be found here.
And others of PortMoresby’s contributions here.